Cardinal Rush to Secure Bowl Bid
Nov. 5, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford has enjoyed a long tradition of excellence at quarterback for more than a half a century. Names like Frankie Albert, Bobby Garrett, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Trent Edwards, to name a few, have contributed to Stanford's well-deserved reputation as a passing program.
Not that Stanford hasn't had its share of prominent running backs over the years, they've just been spread out a little more.
Ray Handley set the school's all-time rushing record from 1963-65 with 1,768 yards. Darrin Nelson, who took just 18 games to eclipse Handley's record, was one of college football's greatest multi-purpose backs. Brad Muster? Pretty darn good. 'Touchdown' Tommy Vardell didn't get his nickname for nothing. Teams could do a lot worse than having the likes of Anthony Bookman, Glyn Milburn, Vincent White, Mike Mitchell and Kerry Carter in their backfields.
However, Stanford has never been confused with Tailback U. 'Three yards and a cloud of dust' is a term usually reserved to describe the traffic jam leaving the Stanford Stadium parking lots after a game.
Fast-forward to the 2008 season under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, where the Cardinal features a more grounded offensive attack that ranks among the best in the nation.
At the nine-game mark of the season, Stanford is ranked second in the Pac-10 Conference and 16th nationally in rushing, averaging 209.2 yards. Only Oregon (270.7) ranks ahead of Stanford in the Pac-10.
Stanford is also on pace to break the school's single-season rushing record of 2,259 yards, set in 1957. To put things in further perspective, consider the Cardinal has not finished higher than ninth in the conference in rushing in any of the last five seasons and has averaged more than 100 yards per game on the ground just twice over the last six campaigns.
The last time Stanford led the Pac-10 in rushing was in 2001, when the Cardinal averaged 201.0 yards a game on the ground.
So what in the name of Darrin Nelson is going on here?
When he took over the Stanford program prior to last season, Harbaugh set out to mold a team that could physically dominate a game on both sides of the ball. Harbaugh sold his players on a smash-mouth style of play that had not been seen on The Farm in years. Toby Gerhart, for one, bought the goods.
Gerhart has become the centerpiece of Stanford's self-described 'blue-collar' style of play. The junior from Norco, Calif., has successfully rebounded from a season-ending knee injury a year ago to establish himself as one of the Pac-10's top rushing threats.
He enters Saturday's game against Oregon needing just 89 yards to become the first Stanford back to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for a single season since Vardell accomplished the feat in 1991. In its long football history, Stanford has had just four backs rush for 1,000-yards in a season. Besides Vardell, Nelson reached the 1,000-yard mark three times in his illustrious career. Brad Muster finished with 1,053 yards in 1986 and Jon Volpe ran for 1,027 yards in 1989.
Against Washington State, Gerhart rushed for four touchdowns to set a Stanford single-game record. He now has 13 rushing touchdowns, which ranks as the third-best single-season total in school history.
'His attitude and approach to football is a 10-plus,' said head coach Jim Harbaugh. 'There's not a better back in the Pac-10 that I have seen and I've seen them all now, either in person or on tape.
'What makes his him special is size, speed, balance and vision, and of course, competitiveness. That's something you can't measure until you've seen him in games or watch him practice. It show's up in everything he does. He's an all-league baseball performer, will probably be all-Pac-10 player in football and he is top student in a tough major. He strives for excellence in everything he does.'
Not to be overlooked, fifth-year Anthony Kimble has teamed with Gerhart to form one of the Pac-10's most dangerous backfield duos.
When Gerhart was forced to the sidelines with a mild concussion earlier this season at Washington, Kimble came off the bench to rush for 157 yards, helping the Cardinal to a 35-28 win. The rushing performance was the 21st-best single-game effort in school history.
Kimble finished the Washington State game with 92 yards on the ground, pushing his career total to 1,767 and quietly moved into 10th place on Stanford's all-time career list. His 544 yards this season are a career high.
'The relationship Anthony has with Toby and the rest of the running backs is outstanding', said Harbaugh. 'When he has gotten his opportunities to shine he has done it. When he's called on to block, he blocks. When he's called to return a kickoff, he returns it. He's doing everything he can to help this team. A lot of it has to do with his resolve to get Stanford football back where it belongs.'
Of course, Gerhart and Kimble will acknowledge the running game is only as good as the play of the offensive line, which has been spectacular.
Anchored by fifth-year seniors Alex Fletcher and Ben Muth, junior Chris Marinelli, and sophomores Chase Beeler and Andrew Phillips, the Cardinal front has helped pave the way for one of the best running attacks in school history.
For a unit that flies under the statistical radar, Fletcher and Co. took great satisfaction in learning both Gerhart and Kimble had rushed for over 100 yards in the win over Arizona earlier this season.
Stanford's straight-forward, no-frills, grind-it-out style of play might not be as flashy as the high-flying days of the 1970's, 80's and 90's, but it has become the identity of a program that was sorely in need of one.
Cardinal ClipsSaturday's game at Oregon will be televised live in the Bay Area on Comcast SportsNet as part of the FSN Pac-10 television package...Stanford has won all four of its home games this season and five straight at home dating back to last season...Stanford converted all seven trips to the red zone against Washington State and is now 29-for-31 (93.5%) in the red zone this season, which is the top mark in the Pac-10 and ranks tied for third nationally...Stanford also tops the conference and is tied for eighth nationally with 30 quarterback sacks...a limited number of tickets remain for the USC game on Nov. 15...call 1-800-STANFORD or log on to gostanford.com for further ticket information.
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